About 10 years ago, a desperate act of protest against state violence by a single citizen, Mohamed Bouazizi, ignited in Tunisia, and then across the Middle East, an unprecedented uprising that came to be known as the Arab Spring.
Bouazizi’s dignity and sacrifice not only served as a call to action to millions fed up with state oppression and abuse across the region, but also finally – albeit temporarily – turned the international community’s attention to their plight.
The Arab Spring, however, did not succeed in delivering democracy, justice and equality to all peoples of the region. Indeed, as we “celebrated” its 10th anniversary earlier this year, many talks, discussions and interviews were organised to try and determine what went wrong with the 2011 democracy movement.
I believe a crucial factor in the Arab Spring’s failure was the international community’s, and especially the Western powers’, fear of “chaos” – their fear that the toppling of corrupt autocratic regimes and the establishment of real Arab democracies would make the region far less “controllable”.
In the months and years following the Arab Spring, the West’s efforts to prevent “chaos” in the region allowed those who stand to lose the most from democratisation – Israel and its vassal allies, the dictatorships of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt – to silence any dissenting voices and calls for democracy with violence and increased oppression.
The West’s self-serving decision to turn a blind eye to the abuses committed by these authoritarian states in the name of preserving an unjust status quo enabled the Egyptian army to massacre more than 1,000 civilians in August 2013 and jail some 60,000 Egyptians for their political views. It allowed the Saudi regime’s hitmen to murder dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the country’s Istanbul consulate in 2018 and jail women’s rights activists like Loujain al-Hathloul on baseless charges. The West’s indifference also enabled Morocco to crackdown on journalists, artists and activists critical of state authorities, some of whom are still in prison and dying on hunger strike.
Meanwhile, being humiliated by Israeli authorities, being evicted from their homes by Zionist extremists, being maimed and killed by the occupation’s “security forces”, and slowly suffocating under the weight of an apartheid regime, continued to be the daily reality of Palestinians. The West, in its hypocritical attempt to maintain “stability”, ignored their suffering.
And yet, by turning a blind eye to these mounting abuses by Arab dictatorships and the Israeli apartheid state, the international community was not in fact preventing “chaos”, but sowing the seeds of a new revolution. Because there cannot be true stability without democracy and justice.
Ten years ago, a single man’s last act of resistance in Tunisia made millions across the region realise that they cannot take it any more and take to the streets to demand change.
Today, something similar is happening in Palestine.
The plight of the inhabitants of the occupied East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, who are being forced out of their homes to make way for Jewish settlers, coupled with the images of Muslims being attacked by Jewish extremists at the Al-Aqsa Mosque during the holy month of Ramadan, has sparked a huge wave of support for Palestinians across the Middle East and the world.
The dignity of the Palestinians, abandoned by the international community but still standing proud and fighting for their rights, is an inspiration to millions suffering under similarly brutal regimes across the region.
Those in power in the West, however, are either silent on what is happening in Palestine, or pretending it all started with attacks by Hamas. Perhaps they think if they continue to support the Israeli apartheid and its regional allies in the name of “stability”, the calls for democracy and justice in the region will eventually die down.
What they fail to grasp, however, is that the gap between Arab populations and their rulers has never been wider and, most importantly, that the Arab populations have now reached the point where “they cannot take it any more”.
For years, Palestinians have been left to suffer on their own – abandoned by the international community and by Arab leaders, as if their struggle was over and nothing could be done to help them. But in the past few weeks, they have shown the world that their thirst for life is intact and they are not ready to give up the fight. Their dignity and resistance made all of us suffering under Israel’s regional allies, and craving for freedom and justice, realise that we too “cannot take it any more”.
Palestinians have reignited an urge for freedom that is irrepressible, and will spread all over.